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DIVERSIONS: King of the Castles

Fri, 07/05/2024 - 12:52
A prizewinning sandcastle built in 2021
Ian Baker

Who isn’t instantly transported back to childhood when they see a sand castle? Some of the most epic creations can be seen every summer at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett, where the Clamshell Foundation — for going on 33 years now — hosts an annual contest that pits friend against friend for beachy bragging rights in support of charitable causes. The 2024 showdown in the sand will happen on Aug. 10, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending with judging at 3 that afternoon. The entry fee is a mere $10 for teams of up to six people, making it one of the most affordable entertainments of the season.

It’s “more than just a day at the beach,” says William Kalbacher, a co-founder of the organization (with the late Rossetti Perchik). “Year after year, this event inspires creativity and community spirit, making it a highlight of our summer and a testament to the enduring magic of our shared experiences.”


First off, the Clamshell Foundation wants you to familiarize yourself with a few important rules. Competitors may not create their chateaus directly in front of lifeguard stands; dunes are also off limits. “Only indigenous materials may be used,” the foundation says. Think: shells, sticks, stones, seaweed, water, and sand. No plastic doodads from the 5-and-10, no sneaking in of cement. There’s also a strictly enforced “no power tools” rule. (No elaboration given, leaving us to imagine why that had to be stated. Did someone take a snow blower or electric turkey carver one year?)


Many competitors arrive with a castle vision dancing in their head, and it pays to come armed with creative ideas. Still, anything can happen when your tools are the shifting sands of the natural beach. Prepare for plan B. Erin Abran, a 2001 graduate of East Hampton High School, is a top-notch sand castle athlete and has become accustomed to the heat of competition. She says her strategy is to plan ahead — and then go with the flow. Last year, Abran’s family team turned its disaster castle into a gigantic sea turtle and won third place.


Shovels and pails are only the beginning. Competitors have gone so far as to bring rulers, carpenter’s levels, spackling trowels, and kitchen utensils, as well as cups and molds of various shapes and sizes. Consider cake pans and jelly molds.


One rookie mistake is to attempt to build a castle with dry sand. You need to make sure your sand is good and wet, to help it hold its shape. Consider taking a watering can along with your buckets. While water is your friend, it can also be your enemy. Choose your construction site with the tide in mind. Back in 1982, The Star published the cautionary tale of a sand castle built too close to the water’s edge: Waves kept toppling the turrets, so the builders “lined up 50 or so of the rocks” to form a mini-jetty. “It looked just like one of the revetments of Georgica,” the writer said, “and it worked, too. It dissipated the force of the waves and protected the battlements while we put the finishing touches on our ornate, seaside mansion.”


Abran said the fun of the contest isn’t only about your own finished masterpiece, but about walking around after the building’s all done to see what everyone else created and share compliments and kudos. “It brings all people together, locals and visitors. You feel like you’re stopping every few steps to talk with friends,” she says.


The New York State Parks Department also hosts a sand castle contest, this one at Hither Hills in Montauk starting at 10 a.m. on Fridays in July. For serious competitors, it’s a great way to get some practice in before the big Clamshell showdown.


In addition to the castle-building tradition in August, the Clamshell Foundation hosts the annual fireworks show over Three Mile Harbor each July. This year’s date is July 13. Popular viewing spots include Sammis Beach, the commercial dock on Gann Road, and Maidstone Park. Those who want to watch in style — without getting sandy feet — can head to Si Si at EHP Resort (formerly East Hampton Point) or Bostwick’s on the Harbor. Pyrotechnics are not cheap, so the organization eagerly accepts donations to offset the cost via its website,

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